Recently, ECoNA Executive Board member and Coconino Community College President Dr. Colleen A. Smith was appointed to the Arizona Commission for Post-Secondary Education by Gov. Doug Ducey. We caught up with her recently to talk about what brought her to Flagstaff, her long interest in higher education and her reflections on almost two years of being the head of our community college.
Tell us a little about your background? I developed a passion for the mission of community colleges and for the students we serve early in my career. I began teaching at a rural community college in Wyoming at the age of 24 and have had wonderful opportunities to serve community colleges in several different capacities in Wyoming, Texas, and now Arizona. This service includes President of a rural college in Texas, Vice President of Academic Affairs/Chief Academic Officer, Senior Vice President, Associate Dean, Division Chair, and Full Time Faculty. I have also served as a peer reviewer for community colleges throughout the north central and southern regions as well as a consultant in the assessment of student learning for colleges and universities across the nation and in Canada. I grew up in Texas, the youngest of four children and met the love of my life as a freshman in college. We’ve been married for thirty-seven years.
What got you into education and community colleges in particular? My parents both stressed the importance of education. Neither of my parents had a college degree and money was always scarce. To them education represented opportunity and a more secure life. I started my first job at age twelve (mopping floors at the Sabine Valley Ice Cream shop in Texas) and had opportunities to experience many work environments before I entered college. I was fortunate to have some amazing college professors and mentors as an undergraduate student and set my goal to become a university professor. My husband and I took our first full time teaching positions at a community college and never looked back. It was at that rural college in Wyoming that we first understood the difference community colleges make in students’ lives and the communities we serve.
What do you see as your role on the board of ECoNA? The community college is important to the infrastructure of the community and plays a significant role in economic development and workforce training. By partnering with various organizations and individuals throughout Coconino County, we help provide training for a skilled workforce that meets the needs of the community we serve. The mission of lifelong learning at CCC helps build safer, stronger communities, and helps put people to work.
You’ve been at CCC for just under two years. What achievement in that time are you most proud of? I am most proud of the many different partnerships we have created throughout Coconino County and the spirit of collaboration we are developing at the College. I have put into place a strong team at CCC and we are moving forward with determination and grit. We are meeting our funding challenges with innovation and hard work.
What makes Northern Arizona special in your view? The diversity of cultures. The pride our community members take in honoring their various cultures and the amazing students that we serve. I’ve always thought I could be happy anywhere as long as there are great people to work with and to serve. That is what I have found in Northern Arizona.
Anything we should have asked you we didn’t? A lot of people ask how they can help the College. We are proud of the word community in our name and are always looking for our communities’ input so that the College can truly be Coconino County’s community college.